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Yesterday in La Crosse

A hero’s welcome for a future astronaut, 60 years ago

Brad Williams



In December of 1959, Donald Slayton spent the holidays with his family in Monroe County.  It was the first Christmas since Deke Slayton was named as one of the seven original Mercury astronauts, and the 1942 graduate of Sparta High School received the key to the city of Sparta, and was declared an “honorary mayor.”  Nobody knew yet who would be the first American in space.  That flight didn’t happen until 1961.  A medical condition prevented Slayton from flying a space mission until 1975.   

La Crosse didn’t have a downtown parking ramp yet in ’59, but the city was making plans for a ramp referendum.  A two-level deck with spaces for more than 300 cars was proposed for Market Square.  That ramp eventually was approved, and would open in 1962.  

The Wisconsin Badgers were headed to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, to face the University of Washington.  The wives of several Badger football players posed for a group picture when they arrived in California for the game.  

Holiday movies on local screens included the musical ‘Li’l Abner’ and the adventure ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth.’  A newspaper ad for ‘Journey’ suggested Pat Boone was the main star of the movie, but the film also featured James Mason, whose other movie hit in 1959 was ‘North by Northwest.’